Discourse on Douglas High brawl paradoxical
May 25, 2007
The climate of discourse around what has gone on at Douglas High School between the young men who “admitted to being in gangs” represents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, when I allude to the systemic failure of the Douglas County school system as part of the much larger framework of a generalized failure to meet the needs of low and moderate income students and students of color across the country, there are volunteers writing back to stick up for the grade school teachers in our district.
Statistics and the entire NCLB Act speak to my point – anecdotal evidence in two classrooms observed by individuals who have enough leisure time to be volunteers in this system is a bit of a reduction at best.
The racism I am referring to is evidenced in the disrespectful and public discrimination toward second language learners from top officials in the county, and the assertion that a disagreement between young men who are admittedly disaffected is “absolutely, absolutely gang related.” It also is found in the “white flight” as some families are looking towards other schools to escape what they fear will be the escalation of these kinds of conflict here. There are parents in the district who cannot afford to move who were made hysterical by a fistfight between teens.
There is also racism in whiteness-the refusal to understand or even consider the viewpoint of a person of color. My family has experienced racism and prejudice in this Valley, both in and out of the school district. But our Elders tell us to “leave it alone-it’s much better than it used to be.” I am amazed at how long it takes this Valley to “catch up” to the rest of the world: Case in point: while the rest of the nation started to desegregate after the lunch counter sit-ins in Birmingham in 1964, Gardnerville businesses didn’t serve American Indians until the mid-1970s.
Similarly, the bell in Minden that once signaled a curfew for Indian people-well, my uncle told me he could care less about that now, but the fact that we had such an ugly public discussion about that tells me this Valley has a ways to grow.
As far as bagging on parents who don’t come to conferences and don’t seem to care for their children goes, I have a good deal more compassion for the working poor than my detractors. I have been one of those parents – conferences don’t always happen when workers can get to them, and when I was commuting and working full-time, I wasn’t able to help my kids with their homework either.
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Again, the root problems are systemic (in this case economic), and the one solution readily available to us really is dialogue. Parents are already organizing to represent the highest level of cooperation and solidarity to our children because, yes, that does work, and yes, we can listen to them carefully and guide them in ways that will make them think about what they have in common.
I am gratified to have heard from so many high school educators that they appreciate my raising my voice – I thought about not replying this time, and will not do so again, but it is very encouraging that students are reading and discussing this exchange.
Again, let’s talk – it’s cheap, and it may be the only way to find common ground.
As my husband says, “We were all natives before the whites arrived and divided the continent in two.” Hold that thought, folks, we got some mountains to climb together around here yet.
— Laura Fillmore is a Gardnerville resident.